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Fatigued driving: How drowsy is too drowsy?

In the last few years, high-profile vehicle accidents have propelled the issue of fatigued driving into the national spotlight. The matter has become so much of a concern that national traffic safety agencies are starting to take action. Just last year, the National Traffic Safety Administration even opened a forum on the topic to gauge the danger facing American drivers.

But while there is no question that fatigued driving is dangerous – some even call it worse than drunk driving – there is this lingering question: how drowsy is too drowsy? In order to answer this question, science would need to take a giant leap.

At present time, we have tests to determine a person’s level of intoxication to show how unfit they are to drive. In cases of distracted driving, even a peak at a cellphone record could mean grounds for negligence in a civil action claim. But for fatigued driving, scientists have yet to create a test that determines when a driver is too fatigued to operate a vehicle. It creates a gray area, particularly in criminal and civil cases, where the importance of establishing fault is paramount.

One of the main issues standing in the way of creating a baseline for drowsiness though is that everyone reacts differently to fatigue. Everyone also has their own line over which they will not cross, fearing that they may be too fatigued to operate a vehicle. For truck drivers the issue of fatigued driving is ever present, even dictating how long they are allowed to operate their vehicles before being required to take a rest break.

It’s because of this gray area that civil and criminal litigation concerning fatigued driving can get so challenging. Defendants who find themselves facing litigation because of fatigued driving allegations should consult with an experienced attorney for this very reason. Because, without a lawyer’s help, it might be rather difficult or even impossible to put forth the right defense in a case like this.

Sources: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Drowsy Driving And Automobile Crashes,” Accessed Dec. 1, 2015

The U.S. Department of Transportation, “Why We Care About Truck Driver Fatigue,” Anthony Foxx, Accessed Dec. 1, 2015

The New York Times, “Push to Prosecute Drowsy Driving May Hinge on Its Definition,” Winnie Hu, Nov. 30, 2015

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